India cyclone: Disaster management

From WEEKLY NEWS 45/99
Almost exactly one month after a devastating cyclone struck the Indian coastal state of Orissa, an international conference on disaster management began in Delhi on 26 November. The 3-day event brought together professionals in the field of disaster management from Europe and South Asia with the aim of sharing experiences and developing practical regional solutions to address the problems associated with the high proportion of natural disasters that regularly affect the region.

The secretary generals from the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies of India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Afghanistan and Bangladesh participated, with each National Society presenting their activities in the field of disaster response and preparedness. "We have to address this problem on a regional level, since natural disasters can not just be seen as affecting individual countries in the sub-continent", said Geoffrey Dennis, head of the Federation's Delhi delegation. "When Nepal gets flooding from heavy monsoon rains, the impact is also felt downstream in India and Bangladesh".

The conference was timely for Hrusikesh Harichandan of the Indian Red Cross, who is project coordinator of the Orissa branch disaster mitigation programme. He shared his experience of how disaster preparedness really works in practice. Since 1994, with the assistance of the German Red Cross, the Indian Red Cross has built 23 cyclone shelters along vulnerable points of the Orissa coastline.

Capable of sheltering 2,000 people each, these shelters saved more than 30,000 lives during the recent cyclone. As a two-metre tidal wave surge flooded in, villagers spent 72 hours housed in the shelters, which have food, water and medical supplies stockpiled for such an event. At each shelter, Red Cross volunteers specially trained in disaster preparedness helped in the evacuation and rescue of local people and gave first aid to those in need. Volunteers even helped deliver three babies born in the midst of the cyclone. Between disasters, the shelters are used as schools and are maintained by the local community. Sponsored by the Federation's Delhi delegation, the conference was organized by the Indira Gandhi Open University.

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